Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison
rating: 3 of 5 stars
When Mira is apprenticed to a witch, the witch's apprentice adopts her as a sister. Too late, Mira learns that she should not trust her new sister when she changes Mira into a magic mirror. Mira's sister becomes the wicked queen of "Snow White" fame while Mira, once her usefulness has worn out, is abandoned. The end of the "Snow White" tale is barely the first act of Mira's enchanting story. When Ivana, a peasant girl running away from her cruel father, stumbles upon Mira, Mira sees a chance to possibly restore her original form. Mira manipulates Ivana into becoming best friends with a wealthy merchant's daughter named Talia. Mira uses her magic to change the girls' appearances so each resembles the other. What Mira does not anticipate is that Talia is quite happy with her new form and is not as easily manipulated as Ivana. It will take all of Mira's cunning to regain enough power to restore her form, but as she comes to know Talia and Ivana, will Mira be as ruthless with their lives as she needs to be?
The bio on Mette Ivie Harrison tells us that she studied German in college, "which is where she got her taste for the grim side of fairy tales." I hate to break it to you, but from a feminist perspective, all fairy tales are grim. Anyway. There certainly is a tendency toward the grim, or, at least, bittersweet, in Harrison's books. I had read Harrison's The Princess and the Hound, which was akin enough (in theme, at least) to Robin McKinley's Deerskin that I enjoyed it, bittersweet ending and all.
I gave this book three of five stars largely because of Harrison's writing style. Her prose flows easily, her dialogue is well-written, and if the plot lingers too often, well, you feel as though you're on a leisurely holiday stroll.
The rest of the book, however, doesn't merit more than a star, a star and a half. While the premise is captivating, the plot and the characters fall flat. The characterization of Mira is decidedly lacking, although she has the potential to be one of the greatest characters of this genre. Talia and Ivana are created similarly. It's as though Harrison is reigning herself in from describing them as kick-ass heroines, and thus all she does is weaken and diminish them.
In terms of the plot, you could substitute my father's catch-all spoiler phrase "they were ran over by a bus" and not miss much of what's going on. There's no climax, no great repentance, even though Harrison tries her best to make you believe there is. It leaves the book hopelessly lacking.
Other goodreads.com reviewers say that this is a retelling of "Snow White," although, in fact, it includes elements of a number of faery tales, such as Beauty & the Beast, or the lesser known "Snow White and Rose Red." You might try Gregory Maguire's "Mirror, Mirror" for a Snow White retelling that's just as dark, though it's written for an older crowd.
Actually, though, I'm not sure whether to tag this book as middle-grade or young-adult. One of the girls is sexually assaulted, which makes me think YA; then again, the end is morally trite enough (love conquers hate) to make me think middle-grade. There's the torture of a pregnant deer, but there's the simple sentimentality of sisterly bonds.
This is a book that's going on my Paperback Swap shelf, because there are any number of other books I'd prefer to own than Mira, Mirror.